WE ASKED NINE EXPERTS TO TELL US ABOUT THE BEST RECENT BOOKS ON CRIME.
Leo Katz, professor of criminal law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and author of Ill-Gotten Gains: Evasion, Blackmail, Fraud, and Kindred Puzzles of the Law (Chicago, 1996).
"Placing Blame: A General Theory of the Criminal Law (Oxford, 1998) is Michael Moores landmark contribution to criminal law theory. It explores the moral underpinnings of our criminal law and touches on virtually every important problem in the field. Moore takes on questions that range from the most generalwhy we punish, what we punish, whom we punishto the very particular: When is it right to torture terrorists? Is a successful assassin more wicked than an unsuccessful one? Can you blame a criminal whose misdeeds result from a clearly identifiable neurological defect? The book is likely to prove no less influential than George Fletchers seminal work of twenty years ago, Rethinking Criminal Law (Little, Brown, 1978), which is similar in scope and ambition and did just what its title promised: It rethought the entire field from the ground up. Both books proceed from a determinedly nonutilitarian perspective and are chock-full of contentious and controversial claims that are vigorously argued and sure to elicit both great acclaim and apoplectic dissent."
Jennifer Gonnerman, a staff writer for The Village Voice who covers prisons and criminal justice issues.
"As politicians pursue tough-on-crime policies with increasing zeal, its important to recall disturbing chapters in American prison history lest we repeat our mistakes. One recent contribution is Allen Hornblums Acres of Skin: Human Experiments at Holmesburg Prison (Routledge, 1998). This exposé details how Dr. Albert Kligman, the renowned dermatologist who discovered Retin-A, turned a Philadelphia prison into his own profit-making laboratory from the 1950s to the 1970s. Kligman tested lotions, creams, shampoos, and dozens of other remedies on the bodies of inmates,who made about fifteen dollars per study. Meanwhile, Kligmanand his employer, the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicinemade millions from the pharmaceutical companies who hired him. Experiments on inmates have since been banned, but this book is a crucial reminder of a horrifying and oft-forgotten part of our past."
Roger Lane, professor of history at Haverford College and author of Murder in America: A History (Ohio State, 1997).
"The abduction of children is a recurring theme in American history: English youngsters snatched for sale as indentured servants, slave babies taken from their mothers, whites kidnapped by Indians. But according to Paula Fass in Kidnapped: Child Abduction in America (Oxford, 1997), child abduction made its first deep imprint on public consciousness with the attempted ransom of little Charley Ross in 1874. In analyzing the cases of Leopold and Loeb, the Lindbergh baby, and others, Fass finds that the publicity surrounding kidnapping has expressed some of our deepest concerns about law and family, gender and sexuality, crime and insanity. Recent abductions by divorced parents reflect both changes in the family and contemporary suspicion of the state, with a host of media, agencies, experts, and ideologues eager to interpret and sometimes exaggerate the phenomenon. Although it is sometimes strained and repetitive, Fasss book is still an original look at an important and historically neglected subject."
Katheryn Russell, professor of criminology at the University of Maryland and author of The Color of Crime: Racial Hoaxes, White Fear, Black Protectionism, Police Harassment, and Other Macroaggressions (NYU, 1997).
"Next year will mark the centennial anniversary of W.E.B. Du Boiss The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study. On the basis of a fifteen-month study, Du Bois evaluated the condition of blacks in postCivil War Philadelphia. Crime, he wrote, is a phenomenon of organized social life, and...the open rebellion of an individual against his social environment. Thus, a complete study must not confine itself to the group...but [also consider] the far mightier social environment. Du Boiss painstaking research, which included a house-to-house canvass of the citys Seventh Ward, explored crime and several crime-related variableseducation, occupation, neighborhood, family, income, drugs, and race discrimination. With its wide-ranging research methods and detailed synthesis of micro- and macrolevel data, The Philadelphia Negro is an example of the best the criminological canon has to offer. It should be stock reading for any student of criminology."
John Kleinig, professor of criminology at John Jay College, professor of philosophy at CUNY Graduate Center, and author of The Ethics of Policing (Cambridge, 1996).
"The happy demise of the third degree as a means of extracting confessions has unfortunately gone hand in hand with an increase in the use of deception in gathering evidence. The pervasiveness of such tactics, along with an exploration of their moral intricacies, is superbly detailed in Gary Marxs Undercover: Police Surveillance in America (California, 1988). If investigative tactics may be subtly nuanced, so too may criminal conduct. The many layers of Bernhard Schlinks novel The Reader (Pantheon, 1997) show how, even when the criminal justice system appears to be working well, it may fail to grasp the deep complexities of human conduct. In Schlinks tale of a former Nazi camp guards trial, we learn that cogent self-defenses may be withheld in a court of law lest deeply private personal information be revealed. Schlinks spare style gives power as well as poignancy to this ironic parable about the social dimensions of self-esteem."
Nicholas N. Kittrie, professor of international criminal law at American University and author of The Tree of Liberty: A Documentary History of Rebellion and Political Crime in America (Johns Hopkins, 1986).
"Last year brought verdicts in five of the most notorious politically connected trials in America. In two casesthe World Trade Center bombing and the Washington CIA headquarters shooting spreethe offenders are newcomers from the Middle East. But in the three othersthe Unabomber, Terry Nichols, and Timothy McVeighthey are homegrown terrorists.
In One of Ours: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing (Norton, 1998), Richard A. Serrano chronicles not only the individual tragedies of the Oklahoma City bombing victims, but also McVeighs transformation from the boy next door and an army sharpshooter into a disaffected loner who embraced the hate-filled dogmas and conspiracy theories of the ultraright. Unfortunately, Serrano fails to broach a broader question: Why have a growing number of Americans lost so much trust in government that they are willing to confront it not only through civil disobedience but also through indiscriminate violence?"
Mark Seltzer, professor of English at Cornell University and author of Serial Killers: Death and Life in Americas Wound Culture (Routledge, 1998).
"Debates about violent crime frequently center on the relationship between acts of violence and the proliferating representations of violence in our culture. Is rape a direct extension of hard-core pornography? Do children copy violent acts depicted on television? Several recent novels grapple with the intimacy between violence and representation at contemporary crime scenes. In Minus Man (Penguin, 1991), Lew McCreary depicts the stranger-intimacies of a society that compulsively gathers around public spectacles of shock, trauma, and the wound. This wound culture is also brilliantly inhabited in Eoin McNamees Resurrection Man (Picador, 1995), a novel that tracks the repetitive rhythms of political and sexual violence. And in Denis Johnsons Already Dead: A California Gothic (HarperCollins, 1997), the abnormal normality of addictive violence is powerfully traced."
Franklin Zimring, professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley Law School and co-author of Crime Is Not the Problem: Lethal Violence in America (Oxford, 1997).
"Crime and criminal justice policy offer perennial opportunities for demagogues in American politics. They are topics where fear and false information often masquerade as expertise. Two recent books, however, provide invaluable perspective for the student of criminal justice in the 1990s. Lawrence Friedman paints skillfully with a very broad brush in Crime and Punishment in American History (Basic, 1993). Friedmans account of the rhetoric and the reality of criminal justice in earlier eras reveals that many of what are regarded as unprecedented emergencies of the present are chronic conditions in American society and U.S. criminal justice. Francis Allen shows how intellectual, social, and institutional forces have compromised Americas commitment to the rule of law in his masterful The Habits of Legality: Criminal Justice and the Rule of Law (Oxford, 1996). In Allens view, the public enthusiasm for antidrug crusades and execution without delay comes at a high price, if traditional American legal values are worth preserving."
John R. Lott Jr., a fellow in law and economics at the University of Chicago Law School and author of More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws (Chicago, 1998).
"One of the most persistent myths is that murder rates are highest in countries with the highest levels of gun ownership. David B. Kopels The Samurai, the Mountie, and the Cowboy: Should America Adopt the Gun Controls of Other Democracies? (Prometheus, 1992) punctures that myth, providing the best detailed examination of gun lawsand their social, historical, and cultural contextsin various democracies, including Japan, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. Kopel provides compelling international evidence that differences in crime rates can be explained by differences in the risks criminals face depending on whether law-abiding citizens are allowed to defend themselves. Anyone interested in the debate over children and guns, background checks and waiting periods, and assault-weapon bans should also refer to Kopels edited volume Guns: Who Should Have Them? (Prometheus, 1995)."
Are there any great books you think we missed? Let us know.